“I believe what you saw was a Chaotic Maelstrom, my lord,” Phoebus was saying placidly as he turned away to replace a scroll upon the shelves behind him.
“I suppose I should feel relieved to know the thing has a name,” Daerus replied ruefully. He had lost no time in seeking out his old tutor after his peculiar experience in the stables. “What is its purpose?”
“That I cannot tell you, my Lord. As a general matter, they are wont to appear wherever the spirit of the Dark Lord lies heavily in our world. I should not have thought such a place could be found anywhere on the Shae estate, but one cannot predict where or when a Chaotic Maelstrom will form,” Phoebus explained.
No doubt that is why they are so chaotic, Daerus said silently, and Phoebus chuckled at his thought. Then the young lord frowned thoughtfully and began to pace the floor of the sitting room his Grace kept for the TimeKeeper’s use. “And how long did you say it had been there?” he asked.
“As closely as I can tell, it appeared some time before the end of that first HighSun during the late Interval,” Phoebus told him.
“And, of course, it did not occur to you that I might like to be warned of its presence?”
“There was no need, my Lord,” Phoebus said calmly.
Phoebus smiled his faint smile. “What would you have done that you did not do, were you warned of its presence, my Lord?”
“Well, I might have had this conversation with you before I attempted to beard it in its den,” Daerus retorted.
“I would imagine that might have eased your mind but what need did you have of my counsel?” Phoebus asked. “It would seem that you have dealt with it adequately without my assistance.”
“Yes, and that puts me in mind of another thing I wanted to ask you,” Daerus paused in his pacing to face his companion. “Why is it that I could enter the place while you could not?”
“I am of the Phoenix. A Chaotic Maelstrom has the power to wreak a particular malevolence upon the Chosen of the Phoenix, you know.”
“Well, no, I did not know. So, then, why did it not harm me?” Phoebus had told the Shae twins many times that they were gifted with the Talents of the TimeKeepers because they were among the Phoenix’s Chosen. Phoebus’ explanation left Daerus wondering, even if he did not quite say so, whether his inability to resist Septha at the Imperial Palace had cost him that status.
“It could not harm you, Lord Daerus,” Phoebus said, suddenly smiling at his former pupil. “You have the power to control it.”
“And you do not also have this power?”
Phoebus shook his head.
“Do you know, I am finding all this dancing about rather tiresome, good Phoebus,” Daerus said with a lightness that did not quite hide the growing frustration he was feeling. “How does it come about that I have the power to control a Chaotic Maelstrom while you, an archpriest of the purple, have not?”
Phoebus shook his head again, looking a bit disappointed. “I confess, I do wish you had been a more diligent pupil,” he said sadly, before continuing in more brisk tones. “Though you and your sister are twins, your Talents have always been different. Lady Dia — or, as I suppose I must accustom myself to calling her, her Imperial Highness,” a mildly bemused aside that caused her Highness’ brother to grin, “was adept at those aspects of our Secrets having to do with molding and shaping Time. That is why I was able to teach her to open time windows, a skill that you were never able to master.”
Daerus nodded, his grin fading as he frowned in concentration and resumed stalking about the room. “Yes, I recall that. It almost turned me away from my studies completely, for it seemed quite unfair that she could perform that feat while I could never get the hang of it,” he said, a touch of remembered pique in his voice.
“Your Talents lie in a different direction, my Lord. You have been gifted with the really quite rare aspect of Talent with which you may impose Order upon Chaos.”
That brought him up short. “I beg your pardon?” he asked.
With a faint smile, Phoebus gestured toward one of the comfortable chairs with which the room was furnished. “Do, pray, be seated, my Lord. It is one of the greatest difficulties I have ever had in instructing you in the Secrets, for they are difficult to learn if one is not at rest.”
“My apologies, good Phoebus,” Daerus muttered, feeling like a particularly tiresome schoolboy as he dropped into a nearby chair.
“Thank you,” Phoebus said, nodding in approval. “Tell me, did you not say that you actually walked into the Maelstrom?”
“Well, yes,” he replied cautiously.
“I see.” He paused for a moment to consider. “I feel sure that you sensed the presence of Lord Septha as soon as you stepped into the stable. Is that not so?” he asked and paused again until Daerus nodded. “Yes, I should imagine that you would be quite familiar with it. Did it not occur to you that what you were doing might have been rather dangerous?”
At that, Daerus grinned. “To own the truth, I do not recall that I precisely stopped to consider the matter. I do recall that I felt a strange power as I stood there, that started here,” and he touched his forehead to demonstrate. “Indeed, the longer I stood there, the stronger that feeling of power grew. And do you say that I was somehow able to impose Order upon that vortex of Chaos?”
“Never mind what I should say. How would you describe what occurred?”
Daerus paused to recall the scene. “Do you know, I am not sure. It was as if at once I smothered it and absorbed it.”
That seemed to surprise his old friend. “Absorbed it? Indeed? That is very interesting.” For a few moments, Phoebus was silent and Daerus waited. “I believe it would be as well for me to consult. I find it quite curious that you were able to do all this without taking any sort of harm, particularly in light of all that has occurred. I should have thought … well, that is no matter. Am I to understand, my Lord, that you would like to know more about this ability that you have always possessed?”
“Do you know, Phoebus, it is not like you to ramble on in this way,” Daerus observed mildly.
“Very likely not, my Lord,” Phoebus instantly replied, wearing the sly look that warned Daerus that something was afoot. Both his father and Dia had always protested when Daerus was used to say that their good Phoebus was both crafty and cunning, but the years had not made the young man alter his opinion. Nor had Daerus ever intended any disrespect by it; on the contrary, Phoebus had always commanded his esteem precisely because he was so clever.
“I will confess that this incident has taken me by surprise, my Lord. I can hope that you are not called upon to use your gift so again, for it troubled me sorely that the Maelstrom had descended upon the Shae estate at all,” Phoebus was saying.
“Tell me, was this what caused my father to stop riding?” Daerus asked, suddenly remembering that aspect of the business.
Phoebus frowned. “I am not sure. Perhaps that was a part of it, but I believe there may have been something more,” he said. Then, looking Daerus squarely in the eye, he added, “His Grace is not growing any younger, you realize.”
Daerus held that gaze for a moment before nodding slowly. “It would be just like him to know in his heart that he is dying and refuse to admit it, to himself or anyone else!” he said in some exasperation, rising to his feet and beginning to pace the floor again.
Phoebus watched him pace restlessly about the room briefly before saying quite gently, “There is nothing you can do, my Lord. There is nothing his Grace can do, either. Time proceeds in its orderly march and all must bow before it.”
And Daerus knew the truth of that statement, even if knowing the truth offered him no comfort. His steps slowed and he stared down at the floor. Yes, he did know that Phoebus was quite right, for why else had he suddenly felt compelled to return to Shae and take up his duties as its heir? There were things that needed to be set to rights, here and elsewhere. Daerus knew this, even though he could not have said how he knew or what manner of upsets he might face.
Before he could say any of this, there was a brief knock on the door followed almost immediately by the entrance of his Grace of Shae. “I beg your pardon, good Phoebus,” he said almost before he had the door quite open.
“There is not the least need, your Grace,” Phoebus said in reply.
Lord Loraed nodded absently in acknowledgment of that courtesy, but his eyes were fixed on his heir. “A word with you, Daerus, if you please,” he said in more of a command than a request.
“Of course, sir,” Daerus responded instantly, unconsciously squaring his shoulders. He turned briefly to Phoebus, and said, “My thanks, Phoebus.” Then he silently followed his father from the room.
Lord Loraed did not speak as he led the way to his study and Daerus felt no desire to break the silence. He could easily sense that his father was both disturbed and excited, but he was perfectly willing to wait for his Grace to reveal what was on his mind. He did not think he would have to wait long.
Arrived at his destination, Lord Loraed seated himself in a chair before the fireplace and spent several moments studying his son before he spoke. “You have taken no harm?” he asked anxiously.
Daerus could not pretend he did not understand his father’s meaning. He shook his head as he took another chair on the other side of the hearth. “As you see, sir,” he said with a slight shrug.
Lord Loraed did not seem inclined to view the matter with the same casual acceptance that Daerus had adopted. He frowned and said, “What was it?”
“Phoebus tells me it was a Chaotic Maelstrom, rather like a of vortex of Chaos,” Daerus informed his parent.
Lord Loraed’s eyes widened in astonishment. “And what was it doing on the Shae estate?” he asked.
“They will occasionally form where the spirit of Septha is strong in this world, or so I was told.”
“I see,” his Grace said, frowning again. “That is troubling.” And with that, he released a pent up breath and ran a hand over his face as if he were suddenly exhausted.
“What happened to you in that place, Papa?” Daerus asked as gently as he could.
For several moments, his Grace did not reply and Daerus wondered if his father was going to retreat into the formality and ritual that seemed to come so easily to him. Still, he maintained his own silence, aware that this was not the moment for impetuous speech. He would have to await his Grace’s pleasure.
Finally, the older man spoke. “I hardly know myself, son,” he said on a quiet sigh, sounding so tired and defeated that Daerus felt his heart falter. “I had gone out to the stables to see the new foal. The groomsmen, you know, were full of superstitious nonsense about the little fellow but I paid that little heed. He was a beautiful animal, too, new-foaled and already as game as a pebble!” and the ghost of a smile fleetingly crossed Lord Loraed’s lips before he continued. “I went to him and only put my hand on his back as he nursed … ” The weary voice trailed once more into silence.
A vague sense of dread suddenly gripped Daerus, but he brushed it off in irritation. “Yes … ?” he prompted.
“I am not sure I can quite describe it. As soon as I touched him, I felt cold … a terrible cold, as if something were leaching all the warmth — and indeed, the very life — from my body. Of course, I snatched my hand away in an instant, even as that dark cloud appeared in the stable. I know all this must sound very fanciful to you, Daerus, but every moment I stayed, the cold only grew worse.” Again, his grace paused.
Daerus waited. He could easily guess how difficult it was for his father to admit to such weakness.
“I feel sure I was only inside the stable for a few moments but it seemed as if some hours had passed. I could not stay. I could not even help the grooms get the horses to safety.”
“Is this why you have stopped riding out? Because of what happened in the stable?”
“Yes,” his Grace replied on another sigh, “but not for the reason you think.” For the first time during this recital, Lord Loraed met his son’s eyes. In them, Daerus saw shame and pain and a frightening weariness. That same weariness was in his voice as he spoke. “Knowing now what that dark cloud was, I really do believe it did leach the life from my body. I have not been able to summon the energy to ride. It is all I can do to force myself to attend to the matters of the estate. I cannot tell you how it pleased me when you told us on that first night that you wished to take up some part of that burden.”
“You were never used to think of it as a burden.”
“I know. Everything is a burden to me now. It seems that Dark Septha has visited me with a slow and lingering death.”
“Nonsense! I can well imagine that it must have been an unpleasant experience for you, father, but surely you are not dying of it!”
“Oh, but I am,” his Grace contradicted with a calm certainty that left Daerus with nothing to say. “There are some things a man can tell in his heart, no matter how many healers he may seek out to tell him differently.” He paused and the added with surprising gentleness, “Do not look so downhearted, my boy. I have grown so very weary this last year that I am sure I shall be glad when I can finally rest. If I have had one worry, it was that I would be gone before you returned. But now that fear is laid to rest and I have nothing more to do but wait.”
Watching his father pronounce his own death sentence with such serenity, Daerus was visited with a such a conflicting wave of emotions that they almost overpowered him. He did not want to believe that his father was dying but, if he was honest, he knew his Grace spoke nothing but the truth. It was all there to be seen — in his face, in his body and his bearing. But the placid acceptance of the father was much more difficult to achieve for the son. In his heart, Daerus railed against it, longing to urge his father to fight that terrible cold weariness. It can be done, I know it can be done! I have battled my way back from just such an icy black prison! You can do this just as well as I could, why will not you try?
But much worse was the sense that the Chaotic Maelstrom that had poisoned his father’s spirit and was even that moment slowly killing him was the unknowing work of his heir. Daerus felt sure that the presence of that dark vortex on the Shae estate had come about through his own fall to the dark power of Septha during the late Interval. What other reason could there be for such a thing to invade Shae, devoted for generations to the service of the Phoenix — even when it grew unfashionable to be so? And now, Daerus saw, because of his weakness at the Emperor’s court, his father was dying.
I might just as well have plunged a knife into his back, he lamented silently. Must I spend the rest of my days destroying everyone I love?
“You have grown very quiet,” Lord Loraed said when the silence had stretched over several moments.
“There seems little left for me to say, Papa,” Daerus replied in a muffled, thickened voice.
“Very well, then,” his Grace said, nodding. “Ah … we will not mention this to your mother. You know she would only worry herself sick and, really, there is nothing she can do.”
“And my sister?”
To his complete surprise, his father shook his head with that faint smile. “I feel sure I will see her again before I am gone,” was all he said.
Daerus, privately resolving to make very sure that Lord Loraed would indeed see his daughter again, was able to calmly accept that statement. Then, citing the need to ready himself for endmeal, he excused himself politely and left the study.
Dia, he called peremptorily, not even waiting until he had reached the sanctuary of his chambers to reach out for the mind of his twin. Dia! Wake up, dear.
A brief mental splutter replied almost immediately. Would I be asleep at this hour? No, do not answer that, I beg.
Well then, I shall not if you should prefer it.
Brat, she said without rancor. Now, what’s afoot?
The ease with which he was able to contact her had been immeasurably reassuring, for it had not escaped his notice that the many events before and after the Gaerud had created an inevitable distance between then. I require your full attention, my girl. Perhaps I should contact you at another time?
Never mind that, she said, evidently catching some of the anxiety that he had been trying to shield from her. It is plain that something is very much amiss and I should be wholly unable to rest until I know what it is.
I think you should make plans to travel to Shae. Quite soon.
Because our father is dying, he told her bluntly.
There was a long silence, although Daerus knew she had not broken the contact. You are certain of this?
He is, Daerus replied as he entered his bedchamber and closed the door behind him. I have reason to believe him.
Daerus, really, you ought to know better than to indulge these sick fancies that Papa falls into. He so hates being unwell that the slightest queasiness will cause him to imagine his Time will soon be at an end. You know his way!
Well, yes, I do know his way. And you ought to know better than to imagine that I should contact you if that were all there was to it!
After another long silence, she said, I am sorry, dearest. Of course, I know you better than that. So … what has occurred?
Not to put too fine a point on the tale, he was attacked by a Chaotic Maelstrom.
It formed in the stables. Did you not know? From what I learnt today, all this occurred before you came to the palace.
I knew that Papa had forbidden me the stables, but he said the building had become dangerously unstable from the extreme weather and I had no cause to question his word. She spoke slowly, as if she were thinking it all through. And of course I knew that he had stopped riding out with us … and I never questioned that, either! But … a Chaotic Maelstrom! How could I not have felt it?
By what I have learnt from our good Phoebus, it is as well that you did not feel it, Daerus told her reassuringly, as he briskly washed himself. Not even he was able to approach the thing safely. I should not blame myself, were I in your shoes.
And next you will tell me that you have disposed of it, I suppose? she asked, only half in jest.
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I did. It will not strike again.
Now, how does it come about that Phoebus could not approach it and I did not even feel it, but you were able to banish the thing? she asked him with enough sisterly scorn to provoke him to grin.
As I understand it from Phoebus, it has to do with the differences in our separate gifts, he replied. You will recall, I expect, that I never could get the hang of Time Windows? Well, it seems that I am able to — how did Phoebus phrase it? — “impose Order upon Chaos.”
Another silence greeted this explanation, during which Daerus was certain he felt some chagrin from his sister. Though she had never lorded it over him, he fancied she had always felt her own more obvious gifts somehow elevated her above him in the service of the Phoenix. This news would force her to reassess the superiority she had felt but never openly acknowledged. As he pulled on his clean clothes, Daerus’ grin grew broader.
I see, she said finally. I fancy Phoebus has in mind further training for you, then?
He thought about that. Do you know, I am not sure. There were some aspects of the encounter that he frankly acknowledged surprised him, and he said something of having to consult. But we can speak of this further at another time. I must put in my appearance for endmeal. When can you come?
I must speak with Caelon, was her answer, but I hope to be there as soon as may be. If Papa should take a sudden turn for the worst, do let me know. There was a brief pause and then she added, If need be, I can come through a Time Window. And then, her touch was gone.
Daerus laughed outright at that parting thrust. He was still smiling when he let himself out of his chamber and took himself off to his mother’s drawing room to await endmeal.